CHICO — In an empty field in northwest Chico, Mark Stemen has visions of towering tomatoes, sprawling squash and fabulous flowers sprouting from the ground.
The Oak Way Community Garden, at West Eighth and Nord avenues, has already connected to water, had its soiled tilled and a cover crop planted by volunteers, and is now at the fourth step — fundraising. When completed, the Oak Way project will be the city’s second largest community garden.
“This is an opportunity for us to enable people to come out and grow their own food,” said Stemen, Butte Environmental Council board president, local activist and Chico State University professor whose Geography 498 students have helped lead this project. “This one is really well-planned and it models exactly after the Humboldt garden.”
“For us, the most important word in community garden isn’t garden,” Stemen said. “The biggest thing here is we are going to grow community.”
A major highlight is the garden will be universally accessible, with easy access to those with disabilities or senior citizens. As part of that goal, BEC has partnered with Independent Living Services of Northern California, which sees community agriculture as a new method for health and independence for people with disabilities.
“For people that are on a fixed income, cheap food is usually the lousy food,” said ILSNC Executive Director Evan LeVang. “This provides a new avenue for people who traditionally don’t have access to affordable, healthy good food as well as the knowledge on how to purchase and prepare it.”
Community gardens also create opportunities to enjoy fresh air, exercise, socialize, improve self-esteem and have access to fresh produce, he said. “We sit on really good land; there is available water and we are in an agricultural area,” LeVang said. “For our folks we serve to be part of this agricultural economy and movement toward small farming is really exciting … I think we are at the front edge of a coming wave.”